Last year in an impassioned memo, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz identified several strategic and operational decisions that, according to him, were responsible for a deteriorating customer experience at Starbucks.
Starbucks faced the classic problem of any company scaling up (especially a retail brand) – how to be large without being bureaucratic, how to be efficient without losing the soul of the brand, how to be consistent without losing the differentiation edge.
The problem created by Starbucks taking the certain decisions was compounded by the fact that competitors have not stood still either. Competition has improved its core products (coffee), as well as the augmented product (store ambience, service, wait time etc.), and in comparison Starbucks has possibly stood still or slipped back.
Now, almost a year after that memo, Starbucks begins 2008 with Schultz stepping back into the CEO role. It’ll be interesting to see how his passion for the brand is infused back into the stores and the operations in the coming months.
On a separate note, the classic “founder vs. professional” conundrum also comes to mind, along with the notable examples of Apple (Steve Jobs), The Body Shop (Anita Roddick) and others. (Though Howard Schultz was not strictly the founder of Starbucks – the company was founded in 1971, and Schultz bought the company in 1987 when there were less than 20 stores in the chain – he is pretty close to being one.)
The question is: for iconic brands that are more than just the physical product or service being sold, can a ‘professional CEO’ ever take the place of the founder(s), replicate their passion & vision and maintain the integrity of the brand? I believe there are examples to support both answers: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
What do YOU think?